Target (1985) (DVD)

I’ve got to stop walking around with this bullseye on my chest.

In 1985, the glory days of the Cold War espionage thriller were over, but the Berlin Wall still stood. In an effort to recapture the feel of a ’60s spy caper, but with an ’80s flair, director Arthur Penn (Little Big Man) helmed this thriller about a father and son caught up in an international web of intrigue.

Walter Lloyd (Gene Hackman, Prime Cut) works in an office, and drives too slowly for his son Chris (Matt Dillon, There’s Something About Mary) to endure. When Walter’s wife (Gayle Hunnicut, Dallas) heads off on a business trip to Paris, she ends up missing. This forces father and son to finally get to know each other while searching for her. Chris finds he has to prove himself to dad, showing he can stand up for himself. But that’s nothing compared to the surprises Walter has in store for his son.

On paper, this is a great concept. Father and son bond while caught up in an action-packed spy adventure. But, like a top secret CIA mission, it’s all about the execution. In the end, a promising idea is weighed down by an overwritten script and slow-paced direction.

First, the script. The writers give it their best, but can’t quite mind-meld the two aspects of the story. Just when the interaction between Walter and his son starts to go somewhere, it’s interrupted by more spy jargon. And just when the action starts to kick in, it’s interrupted by Chris being upset with his dad.

Also, sometimes the actions of the characters are slightly off. Although none of us know how we’ll act in that situation until it happens to us, Chris’s reaction to his father’s big secret still seems a little over the top. Hackman also comes across as confused, as if he never knows when to be the bland suburban father and when to be the butt-kicking Commie fighter. He never strikes the right balance between the two halves of his character.

Second is the direction. Given that there’s a kidnapping plot driving everything, the pacing of the movie seems off. It’s not that everyone’s sitting around not caring, but it’s just not as intense as it could be. For example, there’s a subplot about a sexy girl Chris meets at the airport. It distracts from the plot slightly, but Chris does spurn her in favor of finding his mom. Also, there’s a lot of conflict between Walter and the CIA agents assigned to the case. Too much time is spent on this subplot, and yet not so much that it overtakes the entire plot.

A fair comparison would be to the two recent Bourne movies, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. Although I personally am not as big of a fan of those films as most, they do a lot of things right that Target does wrong. Even though these are brainy action movies, they keep the pace moving a quick clip, and never drop the intensity, even during slower moments.

But Target does get a little bit of that Bourne flavor across during action scenes, most notably a chase sequence on a bridge, in which aspiring race car driver Chris gets behind the steering wheel and takes the villains on a mad car chase over sidewalks and up and down stairs. A sneaky, paranoid trek through airport security is also a highlight. It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie has too many moments when it loses this momentum and settles down into bland drama.

It’s also worth noting that the film is very much a product of its time. Check out all the people smoking on the airplane, or all the suit jackets with elbow patches. But being dated is not necessarily a bad thing. An extended sequence shows Walter visiting the Berlin Wall, and jumping through the many security hoops to get from one side to the other. How much of this was fictionalized is unclear, but it has a genuine “you are there” feel, providing an interesting insight into the way the world once was.

The picture quality on the disc could also be better. There are numerous specks and scratches in the image, and the theater-style “cigarette burns” are still present. Audio is adequate, but it won’t push your system to its limits. There are no extras, which is unfortunate. Director Arthur Penn has had quite the remarkable career, and it would have been nice to hear from him.

But when it comes to telling a story in this setting, the film just doesn’t live up to its potential.

The Verdict

Target misses the mark. Guilty.

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